Seven paused at the door to the mess hall. She had come to hate these little celebrations. Why did Neelix insist on having so many of them? Each one took another bite from her increasingly human heart. If the Captain had not made attendance mandatory, she would have refused to come. Months ago she would have been able to refuse, Captain�s orders or not. But no more. Her Captain had risked everything to rescue her from the Borg Queen. And in that moment when she had been forced to choose between them, she had realized she could not exist without Kathryn Janeway. Since then, she had been unwilling to refuse the older woman anything, no matter the cost. So she squared her shoulders and stepped over the threshold. Two feet through the door, she stopped.
The Captain was already in the arms of her first officer. Seven watched them dance, wishing for the courage to tear her eyes away from it; for the tenacity to continue to ignore the fact that the Captain had -- at one time or another -- danced with everyone in the room except her.
Except you, Seven of Nine, because you are small. Seven gritted her teeth against the voice in her head. The voice that had come to sound too much like the Borg Queen in both its tone and its content. When the collective speaks to its victims its sound is male, mechanical. But when it speaks to itself, it is her voice. That quiet, almost tenderly feminine voice that Seven had actually missed in her months aboard Voyager. When she�d heard it again, a part of her had fought to absorb it, had welcomed its nearly forgotten caress along her spine. But then, it had taken on a life of its own.
A life I would have willingly shared with you, Seven of Nine. Not like Janeway. You will never be part of her life. With her, you will be alone. Seven closed her eyes, unwilling to witness the proof of that statement. The music had ended and the young Borg knew her Captain�s next dance would not be offered to her. She could not bear to see who would receive the gift she coveted; certain that she already knew.
"Why Seven," the Doctor tapped her shoulder to get her attention, "if I didn�t know you better I�d swear you were fantasizing." He lifted his chin a bit and smirked. "A rather pleasant fantasy I hope?"
"Borg do not fantasize, Doctor." She hiked her brow and locked her hands behind her back. "Unlike holograms."
"Yes, well�" He blushed and nodded toward the others. "It appears this party is turning out to be one of Neelix�s greater successes."
Seven was unable to respond. Her breath had been siphoned from her by the sight of Captain Janeway cradled against Voyager�s Chief Engineer. The very thing she had hoped to keep her eyes closed against.
With B�Elanna Torres, the Captain seemed to have forgotten her almost possessive hold on propriety. When she danced with the others, the Captain always kept her distance; one hand on a shoulder, the other held away from their bodies. But Lieutenant Torres had her arms wrapped about the Captain�s waist. The Captain�s arms were around the lieutenant�s neck, her temple against her cheek, her face turned toward the other woman�s throat.
This was not the first time she had seen them like this. There had been other times. Other places. And each time had made another nick in her rapidly fraying nerves. She knew that she was experiencing jealousy. She had felt it toward everyone that her Captain had come into contact with in the last six months, no matter how innocent the interaction. She had hated every one of them.
But it was only B�Elanna Torres she wanted to kill.
She stared at them as Lieutenant Torres whispered into the loose, reddish brown hair covering the Captain�s ear. She saw the Captain smile slightly and nod, never lifting her head from its place against the lieutenant. Her eyes followed the lengths of their bodies, noting the way the lieutenant�s hand smoothed against the small of the Captain�s back. The way that hand kept the Captain cupped against her. Seven was suddenly grateful for the emergency that had not allowed time for the senior staff to change into civilian clothes. The Captain always wore sleeveless, open back dresses to these parties. If she had, Seven would have been forced to watch that hand massage the Captain�s bare skin. And she had seen enough of that already. She had had enough of it all, already.
"Seven? Seven? Are you all right?" The doctor took her elbow, drawing her back from her inner ranting. "Are you ill? You�re very flushed."
"Why? Why does she hold her like that?" The question came off her tongue so quickly it startled her. She knew it was inappropriate. She knew it was absolutely wrong. But she asked it anyway, because everything inside her insisted on grabbing one last chance to deny the truth. She turned to the doctor, letting her anger reveal itself in her face, in tears. "Tell me why."
"Why, what?" Confusion crept through his eyes and she wondered how he could be so dense, so often. Then something changed in his features and he looked at the Captain and Lieutenant Torres. Seven saw the understanding enter his eyes and with it, pity. He returned his attention to her. "Seven, you know that since B�Elanna�s� experience� with the Barge of the Dead she has ended her involvement with Mr. Paris and she and Captain Janeway have developed a �personal� relationship. It�s not uncommon for people who feel affection for each other to express those feelings through phys�"
"You are saying that the Captain loves Lieutenant Torres."
"Well, yes, I suppose she�"
Seven tried to slam her Borg defenses into place; tried to lock out the Doctor�s words. Tried desperately to lock out the fact that if she didn�t leave now she would act on her hate, and assimilate the lieutenant.
Why hate her, Seven of Nine? She is not to blame for your insignificance. It is not her fault that Janeway will take from her what you will never be able to give.
"Be silent!" She shouted out loud, at the voice, but it was the Doctor who took the impact of her rage. She lifted him by the front of his jacket and threw him onto the dance floor. He landed so forcefully that, had he been anything other than a hologram, she would have irreparably damaged him. She stood for just a moment, staring at him, hearing the sudden silence of the room condemn her. She raised her eyes and saw Tuvok and the Captain coming toward her.
"Don�t move." The Captain�s crisp command cut through the confusion that was trying to encase her. Why couldn�t it be that voice she heard in her head? She turned toward her Captain but, through her ocular implant, caught Chakotay making a dash at her. She ducked. He hit the deck and was instantly up, trying to take her again.
"Do not touch me," she threw the threat at him, but it was the Captain who kept him in his place.
"No, Commander," she said, "I can take care of this." She continued to walk toward Seven, hands at her side, the set of her jaw making it clear she would brook no nonsense from an errant drone.
Seven waited. Trusting her Captain. Submitting to her Captain. Do not be a fool, Seven of Nine. She is taunting you. She is daring you. She knows she controls you. You think you are an individual but you are not. She is your master now.
"You are wrong," she whispered, looking into her Captain�s smoke colored eyes, searching for some sign of the love, the desire she had been so sure she had seen in them in the Queen�s chamber.
The Captain continued to move closer, holding her gaze. "What am I wrong about, Seven? Tell me."
She needed to touch this woman. To let her know, without words, that she was sorry. That she would never hurt her, never betray her. That it would be acceptable to be her drone.
Seven raised her left hand, that part of her that was still Borg, and reached toward her Captain. But before she could make contact with her, B�Elanna Torres slammed into Seven�s midsection, catching Seven by surprise, throwing her off-balance.
"You�re about to die, Borg," Torres said just before their bodies connected with the bulkhead behind them. Seven�s enhanced skeletal system absorbed the shock easily, and she quickly recovered. Instinctively, she grabbed the lieutenant by the throat and lifted her off the floor, holding her there as the half-Klingon kicked at her, trying to free herself from Seven�s grasp. Seven felt as if her Borg processors had gone off-line. She could not think. She could not reason. All she could do was respond to the impulses that had come to consume her. She struggled to touch that small part of her that wanted to free B�Elanna Torres. But she could not. She could not get past the greater part of her that wanted to see this hybrid die.
As she started to draw the struggling woman toward her, to look into her eyes as she took her life from her, she felt it: the burn of a phaser strike in her chest. It staggered her back but she kept her hold on the lieutenant. She regained her footing and turned, looking up in time to see her Captain take aim at her and fire.
* * * * * *
"Report," Kathryn demanded as she stood beside the biobed where Seven of Nine lay unconscious.
"The phaser blasts caused extensive damage, both to her body and her implants." The Doctor glared at her, as if she were responsible for Seven having gone berserk and being shot as a result. "The nanoprobes are doing their best to repair them, but they could use a little help. Help I am not qualified to give. Help which your Lieutenant Torres refuses to give."
Kathryn shot him a look that was fully intended to wither him. What the hell was going on with everyone? First her young Borg tries to kill two of her crew and now the Doctor wants to find fault with everyone but Seven.
"You can hardly blame her, Doctor. Seven tried to strangle her."
"Because your engineer attempted to throttle her."
"She had just attacked you and threatened Chakotay." She felt her grip on her patience rubbing raw. "B�Elanna thought�"
"Excuse me Captain, but your lieutenant didn�t think. She simply went off half-cocked, like her Klingon�"
"That�s it." She spun on him. She�d had enough. "You are going to tell me two things, Doctor, and two things only. One, what precipitated Seven�s attack on you? Two, why the hell do you keep referring to B�Elanna as my lieutenant?"
He stepped back, away from her. "Really Captain, there�s no need to become aggressive."
"Doctor," she tinted her tone with a dark warning that he had already crossed the line, "do you enjoy being able to leave the Sick Bay?"
"Well," he said without -- to Kathryn�s dismay -- missing a beat, "I see why the crew has come under the impression that it is acceptable to use threat as a means of coercion."
She drew back as if he had thrown ice water in her face. Using her command training to tamp down her temper, she diverted her attention to Seven. Her blond hair had been let lose from its bun and was covering her human eye. Janeway brushed it aside. She�d been so sure Seven had finally settled into life with them. What had she missed? Whatever had caused the young woman to react so uncharacteristically had also instilled some very sympathetic responses in the Doctor. And it was apparent that she wasn�t going to get any answers by intimidating him.
"Doctor," she began, still looking at Seven, still stroking her thumb along her brow, "I�ve never seen her like that. I truly believe she intended to kill B�Elanna."
"As do I, Captain."
"Then please tell me what happened." She moved her forefinger across the Borg�s full lips. She would never have chanced touching her when she was awake; of taking the risk that a touch would become something more. Something she desperately wanted but knew the young woman wasn�t ready for.
"Perhaps if you had shown Seven this much affection sooner, we wouldn�t be standing here now."
Kathryn�s head jerked toward him. She felt her cheeks burn with the dual accelerants of embarrassment and indignation. "You had better explain yourself, Doctor. Now."
As he was about to answer, the Sick Bay doors parted and Tuvok came into the room.
"Save it," she said to the Doctor, then turned to Tuvok. "Report."
"I�m afraid it was necessary to confine Lieutenant Torres in the Brig, Captain." He tilted his head slightly and Kathryn realized she had forgotten to take her hand from Seven when he entered. If she moved it now, it would only make him more� curious� so, she left it, refusing to answer the questions in his eyes.
"Why didn�t you just confine her to quarters? She�s not the criminal here."
"No, Captain, she is not. However, she is intent on exercising her Klingon right to restore her honor."
"Meaning?" She wondered when people had lost the ability to get to the damned point.
"She escaped from her quarters. Twice." His jaw twitched slightly. Kathryn knew from their years of friendship that the twitch was the best show of anger she would see from him. "She tried to make her way here, to Sick Bay. It took a full security team to subdue her and transport her to the Brig."
Kathryn closed her eyes and released a huff of breath. It wasn�t enough that they had a homicidal Borg to contend with. B�Elanna Torres bent on revenge was equally dangerous. It wasn�t often the young woman clung to her Klingon half, but since her recent encounter with the Barge, she�d fought fiercely to maintain her honor.
"Yes, Tuvok." She opened her eyes and stared at him, waiting for more good news.
"It would seem unwise to house both Lieutenant Torres and Seven of Nine in the Brig." He glanced at the prone Borg. "Assuming, of course, that Seven recovers from her phaser wounds."
She felt the blood drain from her face. "What do you mean, assuming? Of course she�s going to recover."
"Captain," the Doctor broke in, "she is very seriously injured. Her nanoprobes are in a weakened state because Lieutenant Torres and I were attempting to wean her from her abdominal implant." He placed a hand on Seven�s shoulder before continuing. "Without Lieutenant Torres� engineering skills to reactivate the dormant nanoprobes, Seven may die."
She stared at him, then at her own fingers tangled in her young Borg�s hair. She had severed Seven from the collective to save her life. She had done everything in her power and beyond to keep her aboard Voyager in order to give her a life. A life she had fully intended to share.
"I did this to her," she said. "I shot her."
"Captain," Tuvok said, "you cannot blame yourself. Seven would have killed Lieutenant Torres had you not intervened. Because of her Borg enhancements, you had no choice but use increased phaser power to subdue her."
"But the nanoprobes�"
"You couldn�t have known, Captain," the Doctor said. "And even if you�d known, you couldn�t have taken the chance and risked letting her kill the lieutenant."
They were right, of course. But that would give her no comfort, no absolution, if Seven dies. She would still have killed her. Killed Annika. Killed the only reason she had for living.
She swallowed, refusing to show the tears in front of her crew. "I have to speak to B�Elanna."
* * * * * *
B�Elanna was pacing in her cell when Kathryn entered the Brig. Her uniform was torn and she had a black eye and a split lip, none of which, Kathryn knew, were from her encounter with Seven. She wondered what the security team who�d had to capture the raging Klingon looked like.
"Lieutenant," she said as she came to a stop just inches from the force field that kept B�Elanna imprisoned.
She stopped pacing and looked at her. Kathryn could see the imprint of Seven�s mesh plating around B�Elanna�s throat and realized just how close the lieutenant had come to being killed.
"Captain," she finally said.
Kathryn turned to the four security guards who had stepped forward to flank her. "Leave us alone. After you go, activate a level ten force field around the Brig, free Lieutenant Torres from her cell, then deactivate everything in this room except life support and my comm badge." She crossed her arms over her chest and looked B�Elanna dead in the eye. "Just in case the good lieutenant decides to make another break for it."
B�Elanna scowled at her, but kept quiet. After the team had gone, Kathryn walked into the cell and sat on the bunk. "Sit with me, Chief."
"I�d rather stand."
"I said sit, Lieutenant." The woman hesitated for just a moment and then -- rather belligerently, Kathryn thought -- took a seat beside her. Kathryn tore right to the heart of it, "I need you to help the Doctor treat Seven."
"Treat her!" B�Elanna flew off the bunk and landed a left hook on the nearest bulkhead. "I�m gonna kill her!"
"That�s enough, Lieutenant. I understand your feelings�"
"I was defending you! But I�m the one in the Brig."
"I didn�t need defending."
"Like hell you didn�t."
Kathryn stood and tried to take her hands, but B�Elanna jerked away from her. "B�Elanna, Seven would never hurt me."
"She was reaching for you with that damned Borg hand of hers. How do you know she wasn�t going to assimilate you?"
"I just know, B�Elanna." She finally managed to get hold of her hands, and pressed them to her chest. Somehow, B�Elanna had managed to fill the hole that Kes�s departure had left in her life. She had given Kathryn someone to care for, to mother. Although the entire crew thought it was Seven who was the object of her maternal affections they were wrong. They were wrong about so much where Seven was concerned.
"�Lanna," she continued, "please don�t let Seven die. Please hel�"
"What is it with you and her?" B�Elanna interrupted her plea, but allowed Kathryn to keep her hands within her own. "You�ve risked everyone on Voyager for her. You�ve risked Voyager. Damn it, Kathryn, she�s just a Borg. Do you know what you�re asking of me?"
She dropped her head. The animosity between Seven and B�Elanna was legend, as were B�Elanna�s temper and taste for vengeance. She would let Seven die without a regret. Kathryn was sure of that. No amount of cajoling or commanding would make the insolent lieutenant do anything she didn�t want to do once her Klingon was up. If she could break through that and reach the B�Elanna that had come to care for her�
There was only one thing that could accomplish that: the truth. She�d have to tell B�Elanna why she would buck Borg and Starfleet and an angry Klingon engineer to save Seven. And then hope that their friendship would be enough for B�Elanna to find her way to the rest.
Kathryn sucked in a huge breath and faced the young woman again. She looked her directly in the eye and said, "I�m in love with her, B�Elanna. I need her. Please don�t take her from me."
"What?" She threw Kathryn�s hands down. Kathryn wasn�t prepared for the emotions that seemed to rip through B�Elanna and she staggered back. "In love? With her?"
"I take it you don�t approve." She tried to keep her voice calm. Like Seven, she knew B�Elanna would never hurt her. But she couldn�t risk angering her more. She�d never help Seven then.
B�Elanna had started to growl. Kathryn could hear it emanating from deep in the younger woman�s chest.
"What about us?"
The words hit Kathryn like a fist to the gut, knocking the air from her. She raked her eyes over the furious woman. Surely she couldn�t have meant�
"B�Elanna," she said, "what are you talking about?"
Her question seemed to puncture something in B�Elanna who stood stock still for a moment, not even breathing. And then she seemed to deflate and slumped to the floor, holding her head in her hands. Kathryn crouched beside her, ran her hand over B�Elanna�s full, dark hair.
"Don�t touch me, I can�t take it." She withdrew from Kathryn, scooting away from her and suddenly Kathryn understood. B�Elanna was in love with her. Somehow, she had led the younger woman to believe her feelings were returned. That was why she had stopped seeing Tom. That was why she had been so ready to risk her own life to defend her against Seven.
She moved to the bunk and tried to think of something to say. B'Elanna beat her to it. "I thought that� all the time together. It was all so� close� private. The way you let me touch you� and in front of�"
Damn! It was true. She had foregone discretion and freely expressed her affections for B�Elanna in front of the crew. Of course she would assume Kathryn had more than maternal feelings for her. Especially since she had never shown those same affections toward anyone else on Voyager, not even�
"Oh God," she said out loud. That�s what the Doctor had meant. That�s what had set Seven off. How could she be so stupid? How could she have allowed herself to dance with B�Elanna like that? It must have eaten at the young Borg. She knew how Seven felt about her, it was as obvious as her implants. That was what had made it so easy for Kathryn to bide her time; to give Seven the chance to mature and adapt to being human. There had been no doubt, no question in her mind that they would one day marry. But she�d never given Seven any indication of her commitment to her. Instead, she�d put herself in the arms of another woman in front of her.
"Oh, God," she said again.
"I heard you the first time, Captain." B�Elanna�s words brought Kathryn back to her surroundings. She looked up to find the half-Klingon standing above her. Self-disgust settled on her. First she misleads her young friend, then she forgets about the pain she has caused this woman, concerning herself only with what she�s done to Seven.
"Please don�t call me that anymore, Captain." She had laced her fingers together behind her back and was standing at attention. "And please leave."
"Not yet." Kathryn stood and put a hand on B�Elanna�s shoulder, refusing to release her when she cringed and tried to shrug it off. "I�m sorry for misleading you. I didn�t intend�" She drew a deep breath and tried to find the truth inside herself. "I was thoughtless and selfish. You mean a lot to me, B�Elanna, and I enjoy our time together. I�ve enjoyed the attention you�ve shown me. And� maybe I took advantage of that attention to compensate for what I haven�t allowed myself to have with Seven. I should never have let that happen."
B�Elanna remained still. Kathryn knew she was in turmoil, struggling to control her temper and her tears at the same time.
"I love you Kathryn," she finally said, "and you not loving me isn�t going to change that. And, if this is what you really want, I�ll help Seven." She stopped, swallowing back something before looking into Kathryn�s eyes. "For you."
She didn�t know what to say. No one had ever loved her enough to completely sacrifice themselves for her. Then she realized that wasn�t true. Seven had given herself back to the Borg Queen to save Kathryn and her ship.
"Thank you, B�Elanna." She wanted to kiss the caramel colored skin of her cheek but she knew B�Elanna would never allow her that indulgence again. So she merely nodded and led the lieutenant to Sick Bay.
* * * * * *
"It would seem, Gentlemen," Kathryn said as she sat in her Ready Room with Tuvok and Chakotay after explaining the situation to them, "that I�ve made a perfect mess of things."
"Agreed, Captain," Chakotay said, "but that doesn�t diminish -- or excuse -- the severity of Seven�s offense."
"I realize that, Commander," she snapped at him. She didn�t need him to remind her that she couldn�t just let Seven go. No matter how much she wanted to. "But it�s not as if she acted without provocation."
"And what provocation would that be, Captain?" Tuvok asked.
What provocation, indeed, she wondered. And then regretted ever having appointed a damned logical Vulcan as her Security Chief. She sighed and silently conceded the point.
"Where is Seven now?" she asked.
"In the Brig. Lieutenant Torres was able to complete the repairs to her nanoprobes in just under three hours and she made a rapid recovery."
"And where is the lieutenant?" She was concerned that B�Elanna may still be bent on regaining her honor.
"She asked for a personal leave, Captain," her first officer answered. It was clear that he was doing his best to keep the condemnation from his voice. He and B�Elanna had been friends for a long time and Kathryn was sure he resented her having hurt the young woman so deeply. Just as she was sure he would never let it interfere with their work.
"And, I granted it. She�s in her quarters." He leaned forward then, and rested his forearm on her desk. "Permission to speak freely, Captain?"
"Go ahead, Chakotay." She�d had her fill of free speech for one day, but he�d been a good officer. And a good friend. He deserved to be heard.
"She thought you loved her, Kathryn. Frankly, the entire crew thought you loved her."
She sighed and toyed with the PADD in front of her. The PADD into which she would soon enter the permanent record of Seven�s sentence. "So I�ve come to understand."
"Then help me understand."
"I don�t know if I can." She felt every day of her forty-five years pressing on her. "All I can tell you is that I did -- I do -- care for B�Elanna. Just not in the way she apparently cares for me. As for Seven� It�s not that I�m adverse to being open about my love for her, even in front of the crew. But I didn�t think she was ready. So it was safer to just not show her any affection at all."
"Safer, Captain? For whom?" Tuvok asked and she privately damned him again. She wasn�t about to discuss her sexual inclinations with her senior staff. But she had to give him an answer so she kept it succinct.
"For me," she admitted through clenched teeth.
He raised an eyebrow and then nodded. "I see."
"Good. Now can we get back to the matter at hand?"
Chakotay sat back in his chair. "Well, since Seven has already entered a plea of guilty, we can forego the trial. It�s just a matter of setting sentence."
"There is, however, the fact that Seven is not a member of Starfleet," Tuvok said, "and therefore, under Federation law, cannot be punished under a military code of justice. Additionally, the charge for assaulting the Doctor must be dropped. There is no Federation law against attacking holograms."
Kathryn gained only minimal comfort from that. There was still the attempted murder charge to be dealt with and the Federation�s penalties for that were severe.
"All right, then," she said. "Commander, please read the sentencing guidelines for the final charge."
"I�m afraid� or rather, happy, to say that the final charge has been reduced, Captain." He didn�t look happy, but she took him at his word.
"And why is that?"
"Because B�Elanna admitted that she attacked Seven fully prepared to kill her, and to telling Seven as much." His broad shoulders sagged as he continued. "She also admitted that she acted� out of possessiveness rather than any evidence that Seven was actually about to harm you�" He didn�t finish and Kathryn understood how hard it was for him to not demand justice for his friend.
"Which brings us, Captain," Tuvok picked up the conversation, "to whether or not Seven believed she was acting in her own defense when she attempted to kill Lieutenant Torres."
Kathryn wanted to believe that. She wanted to make them believe it. But she knew in her heart it wasn�t true. Seven had acted out of jealous rage and, though she may feel differently now, would certainly have killed B�Elanna last night.
"I don�t believe that, Gentlemen," she said and would have bet rations she saw them both relax. "So, where do we go from here?"
"Assault with intent to kill," Tuvok answered. It wasn�t much better, Kathryn knew, but anything was better than an attempted murder charge.
"However," Chakotay added, "her sentence must be balanced against the mitigating circumstances of her case. "
She studied him and accepted that he was sincere in his agreement with the reduction in charges and, apparently, in Seven�s sentence as well. She looked to Tuvok, "Do you concur?"
"I do, Captain."
"And the sentence?"
"We would recommend six months solitary confinement," Chakotay said, "but for Seven, not having to deal with others for that long would be a gift."
She stifled a laugh. "Agreed," she said.
"And, we�re concerned about the additional damage that would do to her socialization skills."
"So your alternative is?"
"Mandatory counseling with Commander Chakotay," Tuvok responded, "and an old Earth solution the Commander has uncovered."
"Yes," Chakotay said. "Community service. For the next two years, in addition to performing her regular duties, Seven will assist Mr. Neelix and the Doctor as they see fit, when they see fit."
Now she did laugh. "Well, her sentence is intended to be a punishment."
"Indeed," Tuvok said, "and I am sure the rest of the crew would agree that this is far more punitive than a mere one hundred and eighty days in solitary confinement."
"Indeed," she said and stood. "Well, if neither of you objects, I would like to be the one to give Seven her sentence."
"Of course." Chakotay stood also. "Just one caveat, Captain."
She headed toward the door as they spoke. "Yes, Commander?"
"I think it would be wise to keep Seven away from Engineering. At least until B�Elanna�s blood settles." She skidded to a stop. Damn it! She had forgotten about B�Elanna again.
"Chakotay, will she be all right?"
"Would it change anything if I said I didn�t think so?" he asked and walked onto the bridge without waiting for an answer.
Kathryn turned to Tuvok, looking for some indication that he thought Chakotay was wrong.
"It would seem that you were correct, Captain," he said. "You have indeed made a perfect mess of things."
"Oh God, old friend, what am I going to do?"
"I believe you�ve done quite enough for Lieutenant Torres already, Captain."
She stared at him. His words had stung and, though there was absolutely nothing in his expression to prove her right, she felt sure he had intended them to do just that.
* * * * * *
Someone was touching her, even in her half-sleep she was sure of it. A hand, warm and soft, so unlike the Borg Queen�s hand, was brushing itself along her nose, then her lips. But who, other than the Queen, would stroke her in this manner? Who else would desire physical contact with her? Especially after what she had done.
The memory moved the remaining mist from her mind and she came fully awake, pulling away from the touch only to feel that hand move to her shoulder and hold her to the bunk.
"Steady, Seven," her Captain said.
Seven�s eyes flew open. It really was Captain Janeway. Sitting with her. Caressing her. She waited for the Queen�s voice to come and try to steal this moment from her, but it did not.
"Captain," she said and sat up, too strong for her small Captain to hold down. "What� what are you doing here?"
"I�ve come to give you your sentence." As the Captain explained it to her, she sat in awe of the emotions that were finally, again, evident in the older woman�s eyes. The same emotions she had seen when her Captain had challenged the Queen for her. And there was a new scent surrounding the woman. She tried to identify it. It was not perfume, it was something more human, more primal. Like musk.
"Do you understand the terms of your sentence, Seven?" she asked when she had finished.
"You don�t seem very upset about having to spend so much time under the tutelage of Neelix and the Doctor."
"I am not. I am� grateful that I will not be confined away from�" She had not meant to say that out loud, but it was done and she knew the Captain would not let it pass.
"Away from what, Seven?" Her voice had become softer than Seven had ever known it to be. She wanted to hear it again, to commit it in her Borg enhanced memory so she could replay it whenever she pleased. "Seven?"
For the first time since becoming Borg, Seven considered telling a lie. But she would not. Not to this woman. She turned her eyes away and said, "From you, Captain."
"I know that you are in love with Lieutenant Torres. I know you do not want me. I understand that you cannot want me. I am Borg. I cannot give you what the lieutenant can give you but�"
"Annika, look at me." This time, the sound of her human designation caught her attention. She did as she was told and when she turned her face to the Captain, the smaller woman smiled at her and stood. "Would you like to go to my quarters with me, Annika?"
"I� I do not understand."
"I know, but you will if you�ll come with me and give me the chance to explain." She reached her hand toward her and Seven took it without hesitation, willing to follow this woman anywhere.
* * * * * *
Kathryn�s heart was pounding as she led Annika to the couch in her quarters. She wanted to throw herself atop the voluptuous young woman and take -- without hesitation, without explanation -- what she had been denying herself for so long. But she held her hammering hormones in check.
"Would you like something to drink, Annika?" She loved saying her name. The way it filled her mouth and felt like cream on her tongue. Like the texture and taste of another part of this woman she hoped to be savoring soon. Very, very soon.
"No, thank you, Captain."
"I would like it so much better if you would call me Kathryn from now on, Annika." She retrieved a mug of coffee from the replicator and joined her on the couch. The other woman was silent, so obviously unsure of herself, of why she was in Kathryn�s quarters. "Will you call me Kathryn?"
Annika seemed to consider her request, then said, "Yes."
"Good." Kathryn�s palms were sweating. She didn�t know how to go about making things right with her young love. And to compound her problems, she couldn�t keep herself from hoping that tonight would be their first night together. Then she realized that their first night would also be Annika�s first time with anyone and she felt faint.
"Captain�I mean, Kathryn. You are pale. Do you wish me to summon the Doctor?"
"No. I�m fine. Just� nervous." She set her mug on the table and turned so that she could face her. She pulled one leg up, her knee settling against Annika�s muscular but soft thigh. Kathryn heard the young Borg�s breath hitch and looked up to see her staring at their touching legs. "Annika," she began, "do you want me to move my leg?"
"I�" She brought her eyes to meet hers and Kathryn read the desire in them. "Do you wish to move your leg, Kathryn?"
"No, Annika, Sweetheart, I don�t."
Shock supplanted the desire in the younger woman�s eyes. "I do not understand. You called me� sweetheart. Is that not inappropriate? Is this," she nodded toward their legs, "not inappropriate?"
"Don�t you like it?"
"I� enjoy the sensation very much. But you are in love with Lieutenant Torres. I do not wish to participate in any act..."
"I am not in love with B�Elanna." Kathryn slid closer to the taller woman. She liked the fact that she would only have to lean forward a bit and she would be able to press her lips to that lovely, long throat. She ran her eyes over Annika�s face, trying to gauge whether or not she was ready to be kissed like that.
"You are not?" Annika�s breathing had become ragged and she was looking everywhere but in Kathryn�s eyes.
"No, I�m not." She took the Borg�s chin in her hand and forced her to make eye contact. "It�s you I love, Annika. I should have told you that a very long time ago. I should have been showing it to you. Privately and in front of the crew. You are my life, Annika. I�ve known that from the first moment I walked into Cargo Bay 2 after the Doctor and B�Elanna had severed your link to the collective. I knew that you would be my wife."
She moved her fingers into the Borg�s silky hair and released it from its bun. "In that moment, my entire past came to make sense. Why all my previous relationships failed. Why I gave up the sciences to pursue a command. Why Voyager became stranded in the Delta Quadrant. It was because I was meant to be here to find you, to be free to love you. Because you, Annika, and I are meant to love each other."
"But� Lieutenant Torres?" She had leaned her head back into Kathryn�s hand, allowing her to free the soft strands and run her fingers through them. Kathryn was having trouble concentrating: having trouble controlling that part of her that was ready to make Annika Hansen hers. But she knew she owed her the truth before taking something so precious from her.
"B�Elanna is a very dear friend to me. But the affection I was giving to her and taking from her, should have been given to you, Annika. I should have been dancing with you. I should have been�"
Annika pulled away from her and jumped to her feet. "You have copulated with her."
"What? No!" She grabbed the younger woman by the wrists and pulled her back to the couch, fully aware that she�d never have been able to do so if Annika wasn�t willing. "No, Sweetheart, no. B�Elanna and I were just friends. Annika, you are the only one I want. I know I should have told you and I�m sorry I didn�t. But Annika, please trust me. I�ve been waiting for you."
"Waiting for me?" Kathryn had managed to get her seated next to her again. She pressed her advantage and pulled the Borg against her, reveling in the youthful curves which molded themselves to her. If Annika would just lift her arm, she would be able to snuggle very nicely into the younger woman�s inviting chest.
"I�ve been concerned that you weren�t ready for� this kind of relationship. And," she moved her hand onto Annika�s stomach, tracing the outline of her implants, "I knew that if I allowed myself to express my feelings for you, even a little, I wouldn�t be able to stop myself from�"
"From what, Kathryn?" She was trembling and when Kathryn looked up at her, she saw that her eyes were closed and her lips were slightly parted. It was all she could do not to drop her hand just a few inches lower, to the source of the heat she could feel floating up to her. To the well from which the scent of Annika�s passions arose. Her eyes rushed to the spot and she could see the damp stain on Annika�s unitard, between her legs.
Kathryn felt a rush of moisture soak her own uniform. She struggled for her voice and said, "From taking you to my bed, My Love."
"Do you wish to take me to your bed now?"
Kathryn forced herself to take a breath and raised her eyes to Annika�s face again. She found the beautiful Borg looking back at her, trust etching every line of her face. She couldn�t believe this was happening. She was finally going to have Annika. To love Annika.
"Yes," Kathryn said.
"Then I am ready." Taking Kathryn�s hand, she stood. Kathryn led her into the bedroom. Her hands were shaking. Her legs were shaking. She had never been more nervous than she was now, more aroused than she was now, faced with the challenge of making Annika�s first time the loving, memorable experience it should be.
She undressed Annika slowly and then undressed, slowly, for her. "Lie back on the bed, Sweetheart," she said and, when Annika had done so, she lowered herself onto the body of her love.
They sighed as their flesh met. Kathryn adjusted to the metal of Annika�s implants against her abdomen and legs easily. They were part of Annika and she would love them like she loves the rest of this woman.
She bent her head down and brought their lips together, into their first kiss. She tickled her tongue across Annika�s mouth, not forcing entry, not demanding it. Just letting the inexperienced woman know that it was available to her, when she wanted it. And soon, Annika�s tongue eased against her own.
She allowed Annika to explore her for some time, patiently waiting while she learned which kisses and caresses would make Kathryn groan and shudder, which would make her lift herself against Kathryn. Then, when she felt Annika�s need bathing her thigh, that proof of how much she was desired by this young woman stole her reserve from her. She slid to Annika�s side and pulled away from her mouth. She studied her face for a moment, to be sure, and when she was sure, she lowered her hand between Annika�s legs and filled her.
Her young love whimpered and pulled Kathryn down to lay across her, smothering her face in Kathryn�s neck.
"It�s all right, Sweetheart, I love you." Kathryn whispered to her. She pushed deeper and found it: the last barrier that kept Annika from being hers. She sat up slightly and made the still whimpering woman open her eyes. "What I�m going to do now, Annika, is going to hurt. But I want to do it now, so that the pain won�t interfere with what you feel later."
She kissed her again and - wanting to give the woman one last chance to voice any doubts, any hesitation � asked, "Are you sure this is what you want?"
"Yes, yes." She closed her eyes as Kathryn�s mouth covered hers. And when Kathryn penetrated her she cried out, into her mouth, and Kathryn drank her pain. After a moment, Annika sought her eyes again.
"Kathryn?" she asked. "Kathryn?"
"I�m here, Annika. I�ll always be here."
"I belong to you now, Kathryn."
"Yes, Sweetheart. Now let me make you forget all about the pain." Moving to the end of the bed, she bent to her and added to her fingers with her tongue and her mouth and kissed and loved her until Annika rose to her and called out for her and claimed her soul.
* * * * * *
She could finally breathe again. Kathryn was holding her, whispering into her ear. "Annika, I�m here. I love you."
"Kathryn." She opened her eyes, feeling fresh tears fall from them. She had been unprepared for the physical pleasures the older woman had given her. Nothing in her Borg memories, nothing in any of the billions of assimilated experiences, had been adequate warning for the capabilities of Kathryn Janeway.
"Are you all right, Love?" Kathryn bent and licked the tears from her cheek. "Do you want to sleep?"
"No," she said and reached the fingers of her human hand to her lover�s lips amazed, still, at what those lips had done for her. "I wish to please you."
With that she eased Kathryn to her back. And some time later, as she felt the flood of Kathryn�s fulfillment wash across her face, she knew she had finally found home.
* * * * * *
Kathryn awoke cradled in Annika�s arms. She felt the steady rhythm of the young Borg�s breathing and knew she was still asleep. She eased herself away from her, sat up, and smiled. In all her years as a Starfleet officer she had never felt more powerful than she did right now, with this woman. And there was something else, new, in her: satisfaction. Sexual, emotional, total satisfaction.
Annika stirred, and Kathryn felt the implants of her left hand brush across her stomach and come to rest there. Who would have thought that hand which was capable of crushing duranium or assimilating anyone at will, could be so gentle? Annika had used it to please her. She had been afraid, at first, until her Borg had said, "Please, Kathryn, I want to prove to you there is nothing to be afraid of." So she�d let Annika massage her throbbing center with that hand while she used her other, softer, more feminine hand to enter her. And that had been only one of so many miracles she�d experienced last night.
"Umm� Kathryn�" The younger woman came awake and pulled Kathryn down beside her.
"I�m sorry, Sweet," she laughed, "but we both have to be on duty soon. And I need to see B�Elanna first."
Her young lover rolled atop her and pinned her to the bed. She grinned at her wickedly and Kathryn knew the night had given Annika the confidence and self-assurance that came with being loved.
"You would deny me for B�Elanna Torres?" Her voice was threatening, but Kathryn could easily see the unhidden humor in her eyes. "Perhaps I should attempt to persuade you to the contrary."
Annika dipped her head, then, to Kathryn�s breast. At the same time she pushed her mound against Kathryn�s with an insistent, now familiar rhythm. In seconds she had chased all but one thought, one need, from Kathryn�s mind.
"Oh, God, Annika, please�. please�" She was no longer surprised at the desperate sound of her own voice. This young woman could make her beg, had made her beg. Willingly, wantonly. "Annika, Sweetheart, I can�t wait�"
"Then perhaps you should hurry," she said with the teasing seduction Kathryn had succumbed to so often during the night. Then Annika slid off her and onto her stomach.
She knew what Annika wanted. The inventive Borg had taught her many things last night. She raised herself from the bed and straddled Annika�s hips, bringing one hand to rest on each of her shoulders. Then she lowered herself until her wet heat settled between the generous dunes of the younger woman�s waiting rear. Annika tightened herself around Kathryn�s aching need and Kathryn began to move, driving herself into Annika and Annika into the bed.
"Anni� Annika�" Then, she lost her words, and was able only to cry and moan and scream as she thrust onto her love and kept thrusting until she had brought them both crashing back from the heavens.
When they could move, she pulled Annika into her arms. "Dear God, what you do to me."
"Perhaps you should concern yourself more with what I am going to do to you. Later."
Annika�s words wiped her satiation away. She tried to force the bigger, stronger Borg onto her back. "Now," she demanded.
"No, I do not believe that is advisable." She reached up and gave Kathryn a searing kiss, then slipped across her to got out of bed. "I believe you wanted to see Lieutenant Torres before your duty shift begins."
Kathryn groaned against the trail of arousal the young woman had left on her body. "Fine. Later," she said, then realized that maybe she could entice Annika back to bed by making her jealous. "You�re sure it won�t bother you if I see B�Elanna, Sweetheart?"
"It will not," she answered to Kathryn�s frustration. "Not now. Because now, when you are speaking to her, you will be thinking of me." She turned and sauntered toward the shower and Kathryn wondered if Annika knew just how right she was.
* * * * * *
"B�Elanna?" Kathryn called through the door to her Chief Engineer�s quarters. Several crew nodded at her curtly as they passed and she realized her secrets were out. Well, there was nothing she could do but grit her teeth and take it. And get out of the damned corridor. "B�Elanna, please, let me in."
The doors opened and Kathryn stepped into the room. The young lieutenant was curled on the couch. "What can I do for you, Captain?" she asked with a growl that made Kathryn shudder to think what a jilted full-blooded Klingon would sound like.
"I want to talk with you, B�Elanna." She noted the bruises and cuts still adorning her face and throat and the Captain/mother side of her kicked in. "Why haven�t you had your injuries treated?"
B�Elanna turned to her. "I really don�t think that�s any of your business."
Kathryn sighed, accepting her defeat on the matter, considering how different B�Elanna and Annika were. Annika had accepted her apology readily, unconditionally. B�Elanna was going to make her work for it. She sighed again and went to sit, uninvited, next to the lieutenant.
"I want to make things right with us," she said, folding her hands in her own lap to keep herself from reaching out to the other woman, "but I don�t know how."
"Neither do I." B�Elanna was silent for some time, then she changed position so that she was facing her. "Look, I can�t just stop loving you. And, damn it Kathryn, I don�t want to. I�ve waited my whole life to feel this way about someone." She paused and brushed a hand through her hair. "You�re the only person I�ve loved enough not to rush into bed with. I wanted it to mean something� to be special."
"B�Elanna," Kathryn knew her words would hurt her young friend, but she couldn�t betray Annika by not saying them, "even if you hadn�t wanted to wait we wouldn�t have� I wouldn�t�"
"I know. I know." She cut her off and Kathryn knew what she was really doing was cutting off the pain. But then B�Elanna said something that even Kathryn in her regret couldn�t ignore. "You were saving yourself for that piece of machinery."
"I should never have come here." Kathryn jumped to her feet. "I�m sorry if I did anything to mislead you, B�Elanna. And I�m sorry for hurting you. But I�m sick of you and everyone else on this ship judging Annika without giving her a chance. Yes, she�s Borg. She will always be Borg. But she�s more than that and whether or not you like it or this crew approves of it, I love her and she is going to be my wife."
She didn�t wait for B�Elanna�s response. She spun on her heels and stormed out the door. Taking the walk to the turbolift double time, she headed to the Bridge and the sanctuary of her Ready Room. She�d just settled behind her desk with a mug of hot coffee when her door chirp sounded.
"Come," she called and watched as B�Elanna walked into the room. She�d had her fill of the half-Klingon and let it be known in her voice. "What is it, Lieutenant?"
"Permission to speak freely, Captain?"
Kathryn considered denying the request but could tell from her Chief Engineer�s stance that B�Elanna wasn�t looking for a fight. "Granted, Lieutenant."
"I�m sorry, Kathryn." She bit her lip before continuing. "I had no right to say what I did about Seven. You�ve been a good Captain and a good friend to everyone on board this ship. You deserve to have whatever, whoever, makes you happy. And� and I really do want that for you. I said what I did out of� It just hurts so much, Kathryn."
She was out of her seat and around her desk in an instant, pulling B�Elanna against her. "I know, I know. And I am truly sorry."
"I know," she said as she backed out of Kathryn�s arms. "So, you really getting married?"
"I am," she said and couldn�t stop the grin that followed the words to her mouth. Before either of them could say more, the door chirped again. "Come."
Annika walked into the Ready Room, frowning at a PADD she carried in her hand. "Captain, Mr. Neelix instructed me to review the details for the Commander�s birthday�" She looked up and stopped short when she came face to face with B�Elanna.
"Lieutenant," she said and nodded. Kathryn could tell she was flustered, but no one else would have noticed. "My apologies, Captain. I will return later."
"Don�t worry about it, Seven, I was just leaving," B�Elanna said and nodded toward Kathryn. She had fisted her hands at her thighs and Kathryn knew that if she didn�t let her go, there was going to be another brawl.
"Dismissed, Lieutenant," she said, returning the nod.
B�Elanna headed toward the door but hesitated, turning to Annika. "By the way, Seven, congratulations."
Kathryn silently chuckled at the confusion that crossed Annika�s face. Then, she was filled with pride when her young lover nodded politely and said, "Thank you, B�Elanna Torres."
After the lieutenant left, she pulled Annika to her and kissed her throat. "Hello."
"Kathryn, I am attempting to perform my community service for the day," she said, setting the PADD down and wrapping her hands around Kathryn�s waist. "I do not believe it is proper for the ship�s Captain to attempt to distract me from carrying out my sentence."
"Hmmm� I suppose you�re right. Although," she ran her fingers across Annika�s lips, "I�m part of this community and you could be of service to me�"
"I believe I have already fulfilled that commitment this morning."
The memory made Kathryn quiver and she felt her hips urge themselves, unbidden, into Annika. She dropped her forehead to the Borg�s shoulder and tried to regain control, wanting to stay in her arms. But the clean scent of her lover�s hair and the pressure of Annika�s thigh against her kept her control at bay.
"Oh, God," she moaned and pushed herself away. Annika freed her without complaint and she was grateful for the fluent, silent language they�d developed during the night. "I think we�d better change the subject."
"Agreed." She locked her hands behind her back and Kathryn knew it was to keep them from ending up around her waist again. "Why did Lieutenant Torres offer me congratulations?"
"Because I told her that we�re getting married."
Something in Annika�s tone made her nervous. "We are getting married, aren�t we, Annika?"
"I do not believe I have been asked," she responded, tilting her ocular implant toward Kathryn.
"I asked you last night, Sweetheart."
"Actually, you did not. You told me. They are not the same."
"Oh," Kathryn said, then caught the gleam in Annika�s eyes and realized she was being had. "Well, then, perhaps I should get down on my knee and make it official."
"Perhaps," she nodded, "and there is the matter of a ring."
"Of course, a ring." She moved back to Annika and leaned into her again. "In the mean time, how about we just seal it with a kiss?"
Annika�s hands settled on Kathryn�s hips. "That would be acceptable."
"Good," she said and brought them together, tasting Annika, consuming Annika. And then - even though she knew her young Borg had only been kidding - she made a mental note to see Neelix about a ring.